Amilcar Cabral & Mathematics Instruction

Akil Parker

It is of great importance to honor our revolutionary heroes that were committed to the revolutionary struggle for African independence and humanity.

Birthdays are an excellent opportunity to partake in this practice. This is beneficial in teaching our youth about these individuals, the collectives they were part of as well as the ideologies and objectives they were proponents of.  September is the birth month of Amilcar Lopes Cabral. Cabral (also known as Abel Djassi) was born on September 12, 1924 in Bafata, Guinea Bissau.

Cabral is perhaps best-known for co-founding PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea) in 1956. The additional co-founders of PAIGC were his half-brother Luis Cabral, Julio de Almeira, Fernando Fortes, Elisee Turpin and Aristedes Pereira. Cabral shares a birthday with another man important to me – my father, and these types of recognitions can serve to make obscure historical figures more relevant to the common brother or sister on the corner.

We should make such connections and bridge gaps between all members of the Black community and these revolutionary figures that have been systematically denied access to the mainstream of Black conversations.


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Cabral studied agricultural engineering in Portugal before returning to work as an engineer in Guinea Bissau. While doing this work he became involved in anti-colonial activity which earned him the esteemed position of being asked to leave the colony by the colonial governor in 1955. This is a key distinction that should be highlighted; often we afford respect and esteem to those that are recognized and promoted by the colonial and neo-colonial governments due to innate desires to be assimilationist and be accepted by these power structures. 

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We should consider whether we should honor those that are identified as enemies of the oppressive state or champions of the oppressive state and have these critical conversations with our youth. The criteria we utilize to make these judgments on historical figures must be scrutinized very seriously.

After leaving Guinea Bissau, Cabral traveled to Angola (earlier homeland of the courageous Queen Nzingah), worked with the MPLA (Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and Agostinho Neto. PAIGC was actually established while Cabral later traveled to Ghana and connected with Osageyfo Kwame Nkrumah in 1956 – this was a strong manifestation of Nkrumah’s concept of global Pan-Africanism. Nkrumah famously commented that the independence of Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) from British colonialism is immaterial if other African nations remain enthralled by other european nations. Nkrumah gave Cabral his blessing to establish military training camps in Ghana in order to work toward achieving independence and the objectives of Pan-Africanism


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Amilcar Cabral is a figure that is also personal to me since the fact that he was bestowed an honorary doctorate from the HBCU Lincoln University in 1972, and this information was the determining factor in my attending this institution in 2012 in order to pursue a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. In 1973 Cabral became an ancestor after being assassinated by Portuguese military in collaboration with a PAIGC operative, Inocencion Kani similar to how Blaise Compare was instrumental in the assassination of Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara. This is another area for serious study with our young people concerning how we vet individuals that we allow into revolutionary organizations and how we can prevent these types of betrayal.

My studies of Cabral led me to another leader within PAIGC, Titina Sylla. Learning of her assassination by Portuguese military en route to Cabral’s funeral heightened my hatred for these european nations generally and confirmed my understanding of their savage nature in that they would not even allow her to pay her respects to a fallen comrade in Amilcar Cabral. Our children should be aware of this savage nature and use it as criteria to make assessments key to our interactions with these groups – this historical awareness is only intelligent.


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During Cabral’s work as a revolutionary leader, one of his famous quotes proclaimed was “Claim no easy victories, tell no lies.” How do we interpret these words? I have always wondered about this question and the context in which Cabral uttered these words. Recently while visiting one of my elders within the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party I posed this question to this brother. He informed me that Cabral was attempting to emphasize that in revolutionary struggle we must at all times be honest with our people about the reality of the struggle and never be dishonest about our wins and losses in an effort to maintain enthusiasm within our ranks. This interpretation became more apparent when we examine the full quote: “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”
I recognize an application of this Cabral quote to mathematics instruction. As those of us teaching mathematics (which is an imperative tool for independent nation-building, Pan-African Nationalism, and true liberation of African people), we must be honest with our students in that the learning process will be challenging and at times seem overwhelming to the learner until it no longer does. Many suffer from the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure due to the fundamental and intrinsic belief that we will not excel at mathematics. As a result, mathematics for many becomes a necessary evil that must be “survived” during a school year or college semester only for the purpose of passing the course with a certain grade and being able to possess credit for the course while not acquiring actual understanding of the subject. As teachers we also have to admit our own mistakes and failures in our pedagogical practice. Oftentimes this type of honesty requires many years of reflection on what yields success for our students. This type of honesty humanizes the teachers and allows the student to understand that we are all learning together – the students are learning the subject matter while the teacher simultaneously is learning how to teach the subject matter to the student(s). Teachers should be willing to be honest and transparent with our students in order to prepare them for this learning process and all that will be required in order to be successful. As serious mathematics teachers we must expose the lies inherent in western neo-colonial schooling that our children are exposed to throughout their lives. This exposure of falsehood will help our youth become better equipped to navigate this society and further anti-colonial struggle as the neo-colonial schooling is intended to have the youth seek to uphold this neo-colonialism.
Amilcar Cabral is one of many in a long tradition of African revolutionary freedom fighters that our youth must be taught about as an imperative if we are serious about building a new and humane society for people of African descent. Instruction on Cabral and those similar cannot be extra-curricular or optional; this instruction must become as fundamental as instruction in arithmetic is for our youth. While teaching mathematics we should consider Amilcar Cabral and his revolutionary teachings to inform our practice. Long live Amilcar Cabral; he lives on as a result of educating our youth about him and embracing his revolutionary theory in our own praxis.
Suggested Readings:
Cabral, Amilcar. Return to the Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral. Monthly Review Press, 1973
Cabral, Amilcar. Unity and Struggle: Speeches and Writings of Amilcar Cabral. Monthly Review Press, 1979
Chabal, Patrick. Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War. Africa World Press, 2003 







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